What’s the Cost of Starting a Fashion Brand?

Ask Alexandra is my advice column. Today’s topic is the cost of starting a fashion brand. Have a question you want me to answer? You can write to me about fashion advice here.

Hi Alexandra,

I am interested in starting a small line of women’s clothes with a friend of mine. We want to do mostly professional wear and maybe some evening wear, about 10-15 pieces in the collection. Do you have a ballpark figure of how much the initial cost would be to get started before you start making any money? Thanks, love your column!

Work by Laura Fisher.

Work by Laura Fisher.

Dear Alex,

I wish I could give you an easy answer to this, but there are so many factors involved establishing a fashion collection, and their costs can vary dramatically. My first questions to you would be if you plan on retailing the collection, wholesaling it, or both. Regardless of which one it is, 10-15 pieces is considered quite small for womenswear, especially if you are doing more than one product category (evening and professional wear are two very different categories.)

Anyway, let’s presume that you are putting together a reasonably small collection and that you have very few technical skills but that you have design ideas. I am also going to presume you have 20 shapes, each available in 2 fabrics, with 15 fabrics, and that you are aiming to be in a mid range price point, so dresses for $200-$400. I’ll put a price range, the low price would be presuming the service was being provided by your friend who is giving you an awesome deal, and the high price would be presuming you need to find someone who is not willing to give a low rate for a new brand (but they are charging you entry level prices.) These prices are all in USD.

Work by Laura Fisher.

Work by Laura Fisher.

Ok, let’s start!

Technical designer: You will need to hire someone to help you communicate your designs to the factory. You could also try and do this yourself, if the factory is highly competent. If you are really clear on your design ideas, you can probably get away with having someone do two or three half days. $100-$300 per half day, total of $300-$900. (You might be able to skip this if your pattern maker works closely with you!)

Patter maker: Regardless of whether the pattern maker works directly with you or within your factory, someone will have to draft all the patterns for your collection. This is a tough one to calculate as it depends on how fast your pattern maker is, how complicated your designs are, whether you designs have repetition (ex. the same body shape for 3 dresses but in different lengths and sleeves is cheaper than 3 completely different dresses) and how well you are communicating your ideas. Let’s assume eight hours per pattern, and the pattern maker charges $30-$60 per hour. That’s a total of $4800 to $9600.

Work by Laura Fisher.

Work by Laura Fisher.

Fabric sourcing: You’ll need to travel to a tradeshow (unless you want to call in samples which is usually more limiting or you live in a city with fabric agents) and then you’ll need to get them to send you swatches. $1000 to $3000 if you are taking a flight to a tradeshow and staying in a hotel, up to $500 if you are just giving out your courier account number to suppliers who are sending you swatches. Presume they won’t send them for free if you aren’t established.

Collection fabrics and finishing: You need to order fabrics to make your first prototypes and then your collection. If you presume an average of 2m of fabric per garment and you need to account for 30 samples (you’ll want more than one of a few, to showcase the different fabrics), with fabric at $10-$20 per meter (it is always more expensive when sampling), then we are looking at $600 to $1200 in materials. Let’s add another $150-$300 for finishings.

Collection samples: Let’s presume you only need to make one prototype for each garment, which will require some small changes, and then you can go straight to your collection sample (of which you are making 30.) Budget around $50 for each sample (this is a ballpark, but a good one), for a total of $2500.

Work by Laura Fisher.

Work by Laura Fisher.

Branding: Great! You have a collection! But what about a brand name? A logo? Labels? Let’s imagine you go really basic here, you’ve got the name, you pay someone to do a simple logo ($100 to $3000), and you produce a small run of labels for the clothing ($200.) Maybe you throw in some hang tags? $100. So count on $400 to $3300 for branding.

Web and Photography: Now that you have your collection, you’ll need to do some professional photos. Count on spending $300 to $3000 for a photographer, $250 to $1000 for a model, $0 to $1000 for location, $100 to $300 for hair and makeup and $100 to $500 for incidentals. Then you’ve got to build a basic website and pay for hosting fees, around $750 to $5000, including hosting fees for the first year. Want to do e-commerce? Add $250 to $1000 for a still life shoot of your collection, and $100 to $1000 to implement a simple webstore platform, which also has monthly fees. Social media? Try and set that up yourself for free! So count on $1850 to $12,800 for this section.

Business stuff: Don’t forget to register your company, open bank accounts, and do all the official stuff… What about bookkeeping and accounting? Do you need to trademark your brand name? Get a partnership agreement? Budget $500 to $4000 for this, depending on how bloodsucking your lawyer is. Jump up and down for joy if you have a lawyer in the family who does this, and the countless other things you need lawyers for, free.

Sales: Now that you have your collection and some really nice photos of it, you will want to show it to some buyers. The best way to do this, if you can’t get a great agent, is to do a tradeshow. A stand can cost from $1000 to $6000 for a new brand, then you need to set it up and decorate it, $200 to $3000. Add in flights and hotels for you and your partner, you are probably looking at $2500 to $11,000 to attend and pay for a tradeshow with your collection and a few sales materials.

Work by Laura Fisher.

Work by Laura Fisher.

Production: Hopefully you had some orders and you are going into production! Have you graded all of your patterns? That could cost $150 to $500 per pattern. Imagine you are only going into production with 15 items, so grading costs $2250 to $7500. Let’s say five stores placed orders for $3,000, for a total of $15,000 for your first season (that’s pretty good!), then assume the production will cost $8,000 (margins are never great at the beginning) and you’ll want to produce some items for your webstore, so let’s say production cost $15,000. I know the stores are going to be paying you for your orders, but let’s assume you are going to use that money (which might not come until long after you have paid your factory and suppliers) to fund the second collection. Add in a few bucks ($200-$1000) for shipping samples or materials, and other incidentals (visiting the factory would be a good idea, too!) So count on spending from $17,450 to $23,500.

Marketing: You’ve got orders and you are going to launch a web store, so now you need to do marketing. The best way to do this is to hire a PR agency. Monthly retainers can be anywhere from $500 to $3000, but if that is too high, then perhaps try and do a project with an agency, allocate $1000 to $4000 for that, and perhaps $300 to $1000 to gift product to influencers. If you are brave, do it yourself, but you better hope to have great public relations skills. Marketing costs you $1300 to $37,000 for the first year. My experience with PR is that a good PR pays for itself, but sadly not all PRs are good.

Work by Laura Fisher.

Work by Laura Fisher.

Where are we at? $30,000 to $115,000. Sounds like a lot! And I am sure there are a lot of things I have forgotten about (feel free to mention some of these in the comments, readers!) The best way to do this is to be able to do a lot of the above things for yourself, and hope that you have friends to help on the rest, so you can bring down your costs significantly.

Also, by the time you are earning money from your webstore and getting paid for the orders you delivered to retailers, you will probably already have forked out for the second collection. So consider having enough funds to cover at least two or three seasons (although not all of the costs above need to be repeated), so you don’t end up having to shut shop as soon as things get good.

All the images in this post are from Laura Fisher’s portfolio page. She was a 2015 graduate at London College of Fashion. Beautiful work!

  • Kristen Milford

    Thank you so much for this post!

    I was trying to do some research on this very same topic recently and felt incredibly overwhelmed at the amount of information out there, but you’ve broken the process and finances down in a way that makes it SO much easier to understand. <3

  • NR13

    Dear Alexandra. I would like to thank you for your fantastic and highly informative site. I am a doctor and have no technical knowledge of fashion manufacturing however, I am considering to start production of high quality women’s clothing.
    Your articles are great help to get an idea how it all works.
    I would really appreciate if you could point me to the right direction to where shall I start. Who will be my first contact? Technical designer? Patternmaker? Manufacturer?
    Could you recommend someone in London, UK?

    Thank you.

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    If you don’t have any experience in fashion at all, I would probably start with a technical designer and probably a consultant to help guide you before you reach out to manufacturers. Best of luck!

  • Alex Lutsenko

    Hi. I suppose we might be a great help to each other. We are involved in production and making collections from zero and are very familiar with all the steps. Currently living in Sri Lanka and know almost all the apparel factories to produce clothing. Please pm me on subursm@gmail.com if you are interested in any kind of cooperation.

    Best rgards,