I went ahead and started a clothing line. Starting a business based around my love of art and stories seemed too good to pass up. After a year or more of hard work and planning I finally launched Que Terror. I’ve only just started this adventure, and surely have a lot more to learn, but this is what I’ve learned so far. Hopefully it’ll give you something to think about before following me off the ledge.
Time, precious time:
It takes considerably more time than you’d expect to start clothing line, even a humble one. Everyone seems to fixate on the start-up costs but time is even more important. Everything from dreaming up the initial idea, to organizing suppliers and even choosing what pantone colour to use will take time. The more work you do yourself to save money the more you’ll need to spend in time. Better think about saving up some free time to do it all properly.
Have a story to tell/sell:
Having a central story or idea that defines your brand is essential. It’s how you connect and relate to people. Threadless is built on the idea of democratic art, while Johnny cupcakes runs on the idea that you can have your cake and eat it if you strive for it. Strong stories work.
Your central story influences everything you do, from the designs down to the way you write emails. It’d better be a good idea then no?
If the binding thread is isn’t very alluring then no amount of marketing or money will change that. In the indie business world you have to connect with people, you can’t fake it.
The best idea is one your passionate about, have the skills to bring to life and care enough about to share with others.
Take your idea and write it down, it will either need to be refined or scrapped. Out on the page it can’t hide from scrutiny. With my brand, Que Terror, I sat down and wrote exactly what it stood for and even explicitly what it didn’t. I honed the idea down to something that I felt would resonate. I even wrote down the values I wanted to work under.Having a clear definition of what I wanted to do made very other decision easier. It also keeps you focused amongst the millions of options you have for every little decision.
Selling tees is hard:
Even if people love you, love what you do and rave about your tees they still might not end up buying anything. It takes patience, persistence and a willingness to invest in more than just a transaction. You have to build a relationship.
Indie brands seem to work best when they befriend their customers rather than market to them. I’ve found even a bit of a personal touch goes a long way to getting people on board to support you.
You’ll need to have some handle on numbers. Knowing your unit costs, how transaction fees work, taxes, how many tees you’ll need to sell and if you could ever make money are important. If you want a business that sustains itself you’ll have to know how to run the numbers.
Expect to learn:
You should be willing to treat your brand as a learning exercise. You can’t expect to be good at something you’ve only just started. Be honest about what your doing well and what isn’t working. The hardest part for me as the designer was admitting which designs weren’t working.
In the early stages of Que Terror I started a blog and updated it with my ideas, designs and everything else. I got some trusted friends to critique it as I worked. I think being open to this feedback resulted in a better product and it gave me more confidence for the real launch.
It can be hard to admit your baby isn’t perfect. The great thing about starting small is you have the flexibility to change and get better.
One of the difficulties of starting a clothing line is your faced with innumerable decisions. Some are important and some aren’t but regardless they all have to be made. Your clothing line can be whatever you want, and that’s a scary amount of freedom at times. What if you make a mistake? The trick is to be okay with making mistakes. I’ve already made quite a few.
Starting a business is by definition risky. I’ve learnt indecision doesn’t really get you anywhere, at least a bad choice will teach you something. When in doubt it’s best to jump in, screw it up and learn a thing or two.
If it’s something your passionate about then today is the best day to start working on it. Even growing my business from a tiny idea to an actual e-store shipping tees has been very satisfying. I’ve done it all on my own and im excited to see where I can take it. You wont regret starting it, you’ll regret not doing it though I’m sure.