Wondering how much does it cost to start a clothing line?
You’re not alone.
This is one of the most common questions I get asked by people who are thinking about taking the leap from working 9-5 to becoming full-on entrepreneurs and owners of their very own clothing brand.
When I was starting out, someone told me I’d need at least $50k, and others said that number might be closer to $100k.
In case you’re thinking, that’s a lot of money!
Don’t worry. I once helped a student get her brand started with only $2,500.
Was it hard?
Did we bootstrap literally everything?
Was it worth it?
On average I tell my students it costs about $10,000 to start a line. Now if this number sounds like a lot to you, first of all, it's a holistic number - meaning not just the manufacturing cost, but also development, marketing costs, startup costs... all the things.
Can you do it for less? Absolutely! Can you spend a lot more, like hundreds of thousands of dollars? Also, yes… but I wouldn’t recommend that.
Today, I’m going to focus on the costs involved in each step along with some money-saving tips to help you keep spending to a minimum. From there, you can decide which path, based on your budget, is right for you and your brand.
But, before we get started. Have you heard about my totally FREE Fashion Startup Crash Course?
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Every day for the next week you will get an email to your inbox with a startup lesson, and a quick homework download.
Read the lesson. Do the homework. Repeat the next day.
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SKIP TO A SECTION
- Inspiration Shopping
- Garment Design
- Tech Packs
- Pattern Drafting and Grading
- Product Development and Sampling
- Print and Color Design
- Buying Bulk Fabric for Production
- Cut and Sew
- Packaging, Labels, and Tags
- Quality Control
- Shipping and Logistics
THE FEAR FACTOR
Usually when people ask me how much it is going to cost them to start a brand, what they are really asking for is how much money could I potentially lose.
And, if you are looking at your business with this mindset, it might not be time for your to start your brand.
Because you want to be really sure. So instead of thinking how much money could I lose, I need you to be thinking if I invest this much in this one thing, how much could it make me in the future.
Because starting a brand isn’t a quick financial fix. Seeing your bank account drop as you invest in your company can be scary. So, you need to remember, that with hard work and patients that money will come back in.
FIRST THINGS FIRST . . . PROFITS
Before we even get into what everything will cost you, I want to jump ahead for a minute and talk about profits. Because a lot of the information that I see on other fashion coaches’ websites is very misleading.
What I am seeing are these overly simplified examples that go something like this . . .
If you can sell one shirt a day for $50 (sounds pretty easy, right?), you can make $18,250 a year ($50 x 365)! And, remember that’s just for one style of shirt. Your brand will probably have five, ten, or even more designs.
Sounds exciting right?
REVENUE VS PROFITS
But, we need to remember these products cost money. The value of $18,250 is your revenue, meaning how much money you take in, not your profit. To figure out your profit, you'll need to subtract your costs.
If you can manufacture a shirt for $10 and sell it for $50, you can make a $40 profit per shirt. Now, let’s do the math again . . . $40 x 365 days in the year equals $14,600 in your pocket a year!
Still pretty good.
But, again this is not the full picture. These simple calculations that turn your eyes into cartoon dollar signs aren’t accurate. Because along with the cost of making your product comes tons of startup costs to running a successful business.
So, how much should you really expect to earn after all of your business expenses are taken care of?
REALISTIC PROFIT EXPECTATIONS
Ready for it? . . . The average profit for a healthy fashion business is about 20% of the company's revenue. So sticking to the example above, if your business takes in $18,250 in revenue selling one shirt a day for $50, when all is said and done, you will have about 20% of that left in the bank, which is $3,650.
Feeling disappointed? Yeah, I know $3,650 doesn’t sound like much.
But don’t worry because even the most successful brands are working with figures like these.
The bottom line . . . Don’t underestimate the costs involved in starting your business and staying in business. Because when you understand what it really costs to start a successful business, you can make wiser decisions that will help you grow and scale to profits that will allow you to quit your day job. I promise.
Alright, now that you are clear that revenue is not the same as profits, let’s get into it and answer the question once and for all...
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO START A CLOTHING LINE?
1. INSPIRATION SHOPPING
Many design teams like to start their season off with inspiration shopping. Inspiration shopping is when designers go out shopping in stores for clothing they like, then they use these garments as inspiration for the next collection's designs.
And these samples can be important for another reason . . . fabric sourcing. Once a designer is done with the samples, the product development team will cut them apart to create fabric swatches. They then send the swatches to fabric agents to source similar options.
Using swatch samples to show fabric suppliers exactly what you want will make fabric sourcing much easier. The only downside of this process is that acquiring the swatches can be very expensive (like, thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars). Especially if you or your team went shopping for luxury textiles.
Look for garments for inspiration online on secondhand shopping sites like eBay and GEM.app (cut your costs to only a few hundred dollars). Or, your own closet (free).
2. GARMENT DESIGN
Most people that come to me for help have no experience in design, can’t draw, and have never even seen a sewing machine in real life, let alone know how to use one. They think they need a designer.
But here’s the thing—you can DIY a lot of the design work yourself. Before you go out and hire a designer.
The first step is to do some research on your own.
Create a mood board with styles you like that inspire you. This way, when you communicate with the designer you hire, you have examples to reference to help you bring alive the idea that’s in your head. You can say something like, “I want to make this dress, but add long puffy sleeves like this shirt over here.”
Once you know what you want to make and have a way of communicating those ideas with your boards, then you are ready to hire a designer to help you make flats.
Again, having those reference images from your mood board is super important. Any time you can use images to explain your ideas, you are increasing your chances of being happy with what the designer comes up with. Many people end up going way over budget on their design work because they have communication issues and trouble helping the designer understand exactly what they want. Reference images are the shortcut to communication trial and error.
Okay, so what are flats? Flats are pretty much what they sound like. They’re sketches of the garment laying flat. You can think of them as the blueprint for your design.
Flats will cost you anywhere from $5 to $35 per sketch. Anything more than that, you’re getting ripped off, IMO.
HERE ARE SOME REASONS WHY FLATS ARE IMPORTANT
- They allow you to see what the garment that you dreamed up in your head will actually look like.
- You can share flats with your target audience for feedback on your initial ideas.
- When you have a flat of each of the styles you want to make, it becomes easy to visualize the entire collection. You might realize all the pieces you thought you wanted to make don’t sit well together, or you are missing key categories that will complete your line.
- You can use your flats to quickly and cheaply swap in colors and prints, to help you visualize what each style will look when they aren’t just in black and white.
- And,, you can actually reuse these sketches in your tech pack in the future to help communicate key design features and measurements.
3. TECH PACKS
Tech packs, which are essentially instructions on how to make your design, will cost you anywhere from $100 to $1000 PER DESIGN.
The price depends on the designer's experience as well as how complex your design is. Think the difference between a simple t-shirt vs. a custom ski jacket with all the pockets, ad-ons, and bells and whistles.
Tech packs are the key to transforming your idea on paper into a real life garment.
But here is the problem. In my 12+ years in the fashion industry, I have never seen a perfectly made tech pack. And really bad tech packs can end up delaying your process and wasting your money.
One of my Summer Sourcing Intensive students paid thousands on tech packs before working with me. She took the tech packs to her factory and the factory ripped them up. They said they were not physically possible to make and she would need to start again.
YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU DON'T KNOW
The problem is, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, it can be hard to tell if your tech pack was made correctly or is a bunch of BS. They all look official and have drawings, sketches, numbers, measurements, all the things. But the problem is all those things can be incorrect and you likely wouldn’t know.
So, how do you get around this and not waste up to $1000 per design?
There are two ways. One, you can gamble and take a risk on hiring someone. You can do your research, speak to references, and pray whatever they make works out.
Or two, I teach a system in the Summer Sourcing Intensive called the Frankenstein method. It’s a 3-hour lesson that teaches you how to get all the info you need to communicate your designs to a factory just right. And the best part? You don’t need any sort of design or artistic talent to be able to do it. Literally, anyone can!
Before we move on to the next step in the design and development process, I just want to say, tech packs are consistently the place where I I see brands waste money. So, beware!
4. PATTERN DRAFTING AND GRADING
Okay, so you have a sketch of your design and your tech pack. Next, you are going to need a pattern that will be used to cut out fabric shapes that will then be sewn together to make your garment.
Grading means taking that one pattern in whatever size you made it in and scaling it to other sizes. So, your pattern might have been made in a size medium. You will need to pay to have that pattern graded to sizes XS, S, L, XL, or whatever other sizes you want to make.
Patterns and grading range from about $200-$2000. And if you don't have this skill, you will definitely need to hire a pattern maker or ask the factory you partner with if they have one that can help.
Yeah, that’s a big range. And that’s because it depends on how complex the pattern is. Generally speaking, the more pockets and other details you have in your design, the more expensive your pattern work is going to be.
As a reference - I pay on average $250 per pattern (in the U.S.A.) and $40 per graded size. And, in India I pay around $50 for a pattern, and $15 per graded size.
Now that you have the sketch of your idea, the instructions on how to make it, and patterns to physically make it, you need the materials.
That’s what we call sourcing. Finding suppliers that can sell you things like fabric, zippers, buttons, snaps, labels, tags, etc.
If you want to hire someone to do your sourcing for you, it will probably cost you between $500 and $3000 per style. Again, that depends on how many components are in your design and how difficult they are to source.
IF YOU TAKE THE TIME TO LEARN THIS STEP YOURSELF, YOUR SOURCING COSTS COULD BE VIRTUALLY ZERO
Some people think the $1,500 price tag for the Summer Sourcing Intensive is too high. So they contact me like, hey can I just hire you to source my garment? And the reality is, that’s even more expensive. Because I charge a minimum of $3,000 to source one garment. Again, you probably have five or more garments in your collection, so that’s over $15,000 to source one season.
The truth of the matter is, with my tips and tricks in the Summer Sourcing Intensive you can do all of your sourcing on your own. Not just for this season, but for every other season after that, which could potentially save you hundreds of thousands of dollars in the course of your business.
Learning to source, like comminuting tech pack details, is a skill that can feel impossible and confusing in the beginning, but it is something that EVERYONE can do if they just learn the right way. And no, learning as you go is not an option.
Thinking you can learn as you go is a great way to blow through all your money and go broke before you can even launch.
6. PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT / SAMPLING
Okay, let’s get that garment made! Unless you know how to sew, this is a step you will need to outsource.
In general, samples will cost anywhere from $200-$2000 per design.
Again, I know that is a huge range. The cost of the sample will again depend on how complex the style is. T-shirts will be around $200 and jackets with lots of pockets or bags with lots of hidden compartments will be closer to $2000.
REMEMBER TO BUDGET FOR REVISIONS
Keep in mind, you will probably need more than one sample per design. Why? Because samples almost never come out perfectly. After you get your first sample, you’ll need to make small changes to your pattern and to your physical sample. So make sure to budget accordingly for this.
If you do all of your communication correctly, you will probably only need two samples in total, but I have seen friends have up to 10 samples made to get their product just right. Most of the reason why they needed so many samples was because they didn’t know how to communicate what they wanted. As a result, they wasted thousands of dollars learning as they went.
One bonus tip here. I always recommend having someone from your target market try the samples on. This way, you can get really good feedback and make any changes necessary before you move into your bulk production order.
7. PRINT AND COLOR DESIGN
Adding prints and colors to your garments will increase your production price and also your product development price. Keep in mind there is a lot of testing that goes into creating a print. For prints, after your design is made, which can cost anywhere from $100-$500, you will need to have a strike-off made. A strike-off is a small swatch of fabric with your print on it. The strike-off allows you to check that the colors are correct and the print is coming out looking like it should. Of course, print houses charge for this, so you need to factor it into your expenses.
CUSTOM COLORS ARE CHEAPER THAN CUSTOM PRINTS
If you are creating custom colors, this will be cheaper to develop because you won’t have the $100 -$500 development fee, but you will have to pay for something called lab dips. Lab dips are exactly the same as strike-offs except instead of a print, they are dyed a solid color. These are necessary before you move forward to make sure that your dyehouse is able to match the colors that you need. This is also important if you are matching different components with different fiber contents.
One problem with dying is that all fibers do not take and absorb dye the same way, so if you want a polyester trim to match with a cotton body, you will need to make sure that it is possible by using lab dips.
Lab dips and strike offs generally cost between $15-$100 depending on the dye and print houses you are working with.
Use deadstock fabric for cool prints and colors instead of custom. This trick can save you hundreds or even thousands. Plus, as an added bonus it's more eco-friendly!
8. BUYING BULK FABRIC FOR PRODUCTION
I just spoke about the cost required for sourcing fabric. But that was just for figuring out what fabrics you want to design and use. Those fabrics also cost money.
There is a huge range here depending on the kind of fabric and how much fabric you buy. If you order thousands of yards of fabric, you can get fabrics for as low as a dollar per yard, but if you’re ordering only a few yards to start your small brand, fabric can cost up to $20 per yard or more. Luxury fibers like cashmere and silk will cost more with the price per yard reaching up to almost $40, while more commodity fabrics like cotton or rayon will be much cheaper, like $5.
Keep in mind, new technology fibers like plant-based leathers or anything that is getting a lot of buzz but you have not been seeing a lot in actual clothing stores will probably be the most expensive. It takes time for new fiber technologies to get good at what they do and bring down the price. That is why recycled plastic water bottle fabrics are so popular now. They are actually over 50 years old, but it took 50 years for the technology to improve enough to make the fabric more accessible.
9. CUT AND SEW
Cut and sew is exactly what it sounds like. A clothing manufacturer will cut your fabric and sew it into a garment.
The price for a cut and sew depends on a lot of factors including how much is being made, what country it’s being made in, and how complex your designs are.
For a small order of 20 pieces, if you wanted to make it in a western city like New York, Los Angeles, London, or something comparable, you would probably spend about $40-$80 per garment on average. Again, that will depend on the complexity of your designs. If you want to make it in a place like India, for example, cut and sew will cost about $20-$40 per garment, but you will have to pay shipping costs and also clear and pay customs and duties.
DON'T WORRY THESE PRICES WILL GO DOWN IN THE FUTURE
The more you make, the more those prices go down. For an order of 200 pieces, you can expect to pay.
Remember, this is only the price for cutting and sewing. You will need to add on top of this the price of your fabrics plus a few more expenses I’ll mention below.
10. PACKAGING, LABELS, AND TAGS
The cost of your packaging labels and tags will be determined by how complex they are (are you noticing this is a trend?). For most new brands, I suggest buying generic boxes with no branding and adding a sticker with your logo for customization.
If you are planning to have something very customized, you can expect to be spending on average $4-$10 per box.
Now when it comes to labels and tags, expect high MOQs, like 1000 pieces per style. This might sound like a lot, but you can use things like labels and tags from season to season.
The cost of labels and tags will range from $0.05-$0.50 depending on the quantity and materials used and what country you are making them in.
11. QUALITY CONTROL
So, your fabric was cut and sewn into a garment, labels and tags were applied, the garment was folded and packaged, and now it’s ready to ship.
But is it really?
If your factory is overseas, I recommend hiring a third-party quality assurance team. This third-party team is responsible for going into the factory and checking their work. They make sure what you ordered is what is actually shipping.
Quality assurance teams generally cost about $300-$500 per day depending on what they are checking.
This expense is often overlooked, but in my opinion, it’s one of the most important things to spend money on. Quality control helps you ensure that all of your hard work paid off and you have a product that is ready to sell (that’s not a bunch of garbage).
12. SHIPPING AND LOGISTICS
And lastly, we have shipping and logistics. If you plan to ship your goods from Asia to the United States, I tell my clients to add $7-$8 on average for shipping and duties.
Then you need to ship everything to customers, clothing boutiques, and sometimes even online store partners.
One of the plus sides to manufacturing locally is that you will not have to pay for shipping and duties. Not only will this decrease your logistics costs, but it will also decrease your timelines.
13. OTHER EXPENSES
Now, the expenses I went over are just for getting your product made. There are lots of other expenses involved in running a successful fashion startup.
These expenses include paying for a website, photoshoots, giveaways, free products for influencers, friends and family discounts, attending pop-ups to sell your clothes in person (which I highly recommend), creating content for social media accounts, trade shows, marketing, and advertising. And other day-to-day things like buying paper to print shipping labels or tape to seal your boxes.
WHERE BRANDS WASTE THE MOST MONEY
You are probably realizing right now that starting a brand is a lot more expensive than you initially thought.
Remember the story I told you at the beginning of this article?. I had a student who was able to start her brand for only $2,500. Now, did her brand look like what she thought it would at the start of her journey?
Instead of having 30 different styles in a robust collection, she started with just one very well-researched item. And from there, every season she added more and more items to the collection growing slowly but steadily.
If you take anything away from this article, let it be this: startup founders waste the most money when they learn through trial and error. For some reason, everyone thinks just because they wear clothes it’s easy to make them. And it’s not the case. The best thing you can do for yourself is to invest in education so you can avoid mistakes that can waste your money and put you out of business before you even have any product to show for your hard work.
SO, HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO START A CLOTHING LINE?
Unfortunately, the only answer I can give you to the question "how much does it cost to start a clothing line" is that there is no real answer.
Spending more does not equate to bigger and better success. Personally, I always recommend bootstrapping. The more DIY you can be, the more you can save. Remember, all those little expenses add up.
When you know what you need and how much it’s going to cost, you can create a plan that is within your budget (no matter how small it is) and get your brand started.
The nice thing about The Summer Sourcing Intensive is that I teach you how to do most of the things you need to do in your clothing business yourself so you can bootstrap and save literally thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars.
Need some help getting your business ideas out of your head and onto paper? Check out this post with a free download on creating your business plan.