• April 12, 2019

How to Bootstrap Your Fashion Line From Your 9-5

How to Bootstrap Your Fashion Line From Your 9-5

1024 288 Natalie Spira

When we surveyed our community, we found that most future fashion entrepreneurs are planning to fund their first collection through their 9-5. 43% of our respondents are dutifully saving up money from their day jobs to fund their dream. We see it all the time at Indie Source, so it wasn’t hard for us to put together a list of the key steps to take if you’re planning to bootstrap your fashion line from your 9-5.

Start with a “Bootstrap Your 9-5” Plan

Just because your fashion collection is still a distant dream doesn’t mean you can’t start putting together concrete details about the business.

First, ask yourself, what does your collection look like? Is it a line of leggings, tops, and pullovers for yoga? Or a collection for babies? We recommend starting with a minimum of 6 styles, or 2 outfits, to round out your collection.

Second, ask yourself, who is your market? Is it, continuing with the above examples, trendy, urban, 30-something professional women? Or new well-to-do moms who enjoy dressing up their babies?

Third, ask yourself, who are your competitors? Not, as in the examples above, behemoths like Target, new name brands like Athletica and Lululemon, or even successful upstarts like Fabletics. There is a reason that Forever 21 and Zara are able to sell their products at such a low price. They are making millions of units and have economies of scale that you won’t be able to replicate. They are selling to the masses.

Even if you do look at these companies, be careful about trying to provide products that have lower price points than large companies. Instead, find smaller brands that have similar financial structures to you. To find your niche, examine everything from their business model and pricing to their branding and messaging.

Fourth, ask yourself, what makes your collection different? Knowing your unique value proposition will make it vastly easier to develop your branding and market your line. It could be your fabric – organic or techy, it could be partnerships that give back, or it could be unexpected features.

Although you may have dreams of selling globally, at first it’s ideal to start with a very specific niche. Solve their problem, become their solution and create 1,000 true fans before you begin trying to appeal to everyone.

Outline your Collection

Traditionally, designers have been told by manufacturers that they need final designs to move forward with their plans, but that’s no longer true. Consultative manufacturers like Indie Source can work with you on development to put together tech packs based on rough designs or reference samples. In fact, we’re big advocates that drawings are actually of little to no value when it comes to the crucial details of putting together samples. Reference samples are much more helpful – and easier for you to obtain.

What are Reference Samples?

Reference samples are physical examples of the colors, construction, fit, or fabric that you’d like for your final collection. Maybe Athleta’s line of functional leggings from two seasons ago gets the pocket concept right, but you want it slightly tweaked in another location alongside your vision for what they should look like. Or maybe the palette of Janie and Jack’s last collection is almost exactly what you want for your line of baby clothes. Or maybe you want to borrow the length of a sleeve of a shirt you wore out years ago for your version of this summer’s crop top.

Whatever it is, reference samples can guide you in:

  • Base sample sizes – what a small or size 2 will or can look like. (Remember sizing is subjective and a Large in one brand could be your brands Medium.)
  • Sample fits – how your first sample will fit
  • Fabrics and trims – target materials for sourcing

Don’t be afraid to get out there and find  the clothes that closely reflect your original vision and will help you communicate the details of your collection to a consultative manufacturer like Indie Source. Ultimately, reference samples will help you shorten the design and accelerate the development processes.

Let Indie Source co-founder Zack Hurley explain it:

Do Your Costing

Once you know who your target audience is, who your competitors are, and potential pricing for your garments, you can go ahead and map out your costing. Traditionally, new fashion designers would be steered toward old-fashioned keystone pricing, where you simply multiply your costing to arrive at wholesale and retail pricing, but nowadays this is irrelevant. Most fashion designers are setting up their own Shopify sites and selling directly to customers.

That means a couple things for fashion designers: first, that they will pay more for development and production because they’re doing fewer units; and second, that they’ll need more money for marketing because they’re doing it themselves.

For costing, we optimally recommend:

  • $30 cost of goods = materials + labor
  • $30 marketing
  • $30 cost of doing business
  • $30 profit to be reinvested in the business

These numbers are directly tied to quantity and will increase or decrease depending on the number of units you order from your manufacturer. If you are working around a manufacturer’s minimums it is more likely that the cost of goods will be a larger proportion of the retail price and there will be less profit to reinvest in the business. Consider this the startup cost of doing business until you have customers, cash flow, and the potential for scale.

To get started on your costing, download our costing template free that we use with all of our clients.

Make a Budget to Bootstrap your Fashion Line

Follow the money. The information that will allow you to put together a budget is available to you if you just do a little research. The plus side is that having a budget in hand will make your fashion line feel dramatically more concrete, not just in terms of the collection but in a larger sense of the business.

First, factor in money for product development. For fabric sourcing, trim sourcing, pattern making, and cut and sew for your samples, clients at Indie Source typically spend between $1,500 to $2,000 per style. We recommend that you devote at least $2,000 to each style to create a quality product that will be successful in the marketplace. If you’re making 6 styles as recommended, you can budget a total of $12,000 for development.

To understand what you’ll need for development, read our one-stop guide and download the development cheat sheet we use with all of our clients.

At Indie Source, our clients aren’t just paying for samples as part of the cost per style. They’re paying to build the infrastructure for their entire business. Unlike other manufacturers, especially overseas, Indie Source clients end up with a full vendor list with all the materials they’ve selected, engineered digital patterns that ensure the fit is perfect in production, and pattern cards that become the instructions for the sewing team. In our experience, putting proper resources into doing proper development has saved our clients tens of thousands of dollars of headache in the future.

Understand that product development costs depend on a few factors, including how many products you are producing, each product’s complexity, and the quality of the materials you are using. At the end of the development process, you will understand exactly how much your cost per unit – and how much you plan to price your items – as you move into the next big stage: production.

Next, factor in money for production and business operations based on each product’s costing. For example, if your collection includes three leggings that retail for $90 and three tops that retail for $60 and you want to do an initial order of 300 each, you can expect to spend around $35,000 on production and $65,000 on business expenditures including operations, business development, and marketing using the equation above. 

Before you get discouraged, remember two things: first, that this number includes everything from developing and producing your line to branding and marketing it. At the end of this tunnel, your customers should be seamlessly hearing about and shopping your collection. Second, you don’t have to spend the full $65,000 on business expenditures. However, you can rest assured with this calculation that you have the margins to do so if needed. 

Put Together a Timeline to Bootstrap your Fashion Line

How much money can you put aside each month to save up for your collection? Create a savings goal and understand how long it will take you to build up the initial investment for your business. Is it 3 months? 6 months? 18 months? Use an app like Mint or YNAB that allows you to set up a savings goal. Otherwise, even simple spreadsheets will do – you can find budgeting templates for Google Drive with a simple search. If you find that it would take too long to fund it from your 9-5, consider other financing options including angel investors, grants, and competitions.

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