How to Set Up & Run A Fashion Label by Toby Meadows

Fashion Label

RATING: 7/10

While this is a good primer into the business of fashion 101, it is very very mainstream, meaning if you into bootstrapping, this book will leave much to be desired. Innovative this book is not. It’s more of a primer of how business has been done, will be done, and will continue to be done. A good book for challenging conventions.

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Running a successful fashion label requires 90 percent business acumen and only about 10 per cent artistic ability.

The three main market segments are Haute Couture, Ready-to-Wear, and Mass Market

Haute Couture: describes luxurious, elaborately detailed and finished one-off pieces, combined with sometimes extravagant designs. Born out of the Paris first fashion houses to set up in Paris in the lat nineteenth century, couture is still at the very upper end of the fashion spectrum, servicing the very few who can afford the luxurious creations that are fitted specifically to the client’s every measurement.

Ready-To-Wear: Cross between Couture & Mass Market. Ex. Marc by Marc Jacobs, See by Chloe

–Ready-To-Wear labels often wholesale their collections to boutiques and department stores by showcasing at the fashion weeks held seasonally twice a year. Typically they work 12 months in advance, researching, and developing their collection for the trade fairs at which they will sell, then going into production when they have taken orders from the boutiques and department stores. This allows them to produce only the number of garments ordered, thereby minimizing the risk of overproduction as well as the initial expense in outlay to their manufacturer.

Mass Market: H&M, Zara, Gap

“Eco fashion” refers to fashionable and stylish clothing manufactured using environmentally friendly processes under free trade conditions and is becoming a growing force in the market.

–At its extreme it can mean recycled clothing and even recycled materials, such as eco-fleeces produced from recycled plastic bottles.

The more specific the market you target, the greater chance of developing a strong message for your label and delivering a great product to your buyers, press, and consumers alike.

Men’s Daywear: casual, practical, comfortable; tailoring, ready-to-wear, mass market.

Men’s eveningwear: Smart, elegant, formal, right for the occasion, “ “ “

The better and faster your supply chain, the more flexibility your business will have and the greater the opportunity to offer more collections in a year. Even if, like most small labels, you will be working a two-season-a-year sales strategy, your supply chain will be of the highest importance to your success.

“Supply” chain is the term used to describe the process of planning, implementing, and controlling the flow and storage of your products, from their point of origin to their point of consumption, in order to meet your customer’s needs.


1. The process starts with defining your business strategy—what it is you aim to do; this will be your fashion label’s raison d’etre, and every other activity you undertake should always be carried out with this in mind.

2. Research your market: including customers and product, to help develop collections.

3. Development Stage: aesthetically developing brand.

4. Sampling: turning 2D designs into 3D prototypes.

5. Wholesaling and Season Selling.

6. Production

7. Distribution

8. PR & Marketing

9. Retail Selling Season

It’s not more expensive to create beautifully, ethically correct clothing, it’s just a lot more hassle, and if you take an ethical approach you need a different supply chain. But fundamentally, you can’t persuade people to join in the ethical challenge unless you give them really sexy stylish clothes. –Peter Ingwersen of Noir

If you want to open a retail store, then work for one first. How will you know what the demands of the fashion and lifestyle sector will be if you’ve never worked in that arena? It can also give you an understanding of how store buyers plan their seasonal budgets and source new labels.

Once you have chosen your brand name, you will need to register it as a trademark to prevent others using the name, for example to name a new product or service.

Trade name: name under which your business is run; typically the same as brand name.


1. Research Fashion Trends

–Fashion Forecaster



2. Design Development




–Pattern Cutter

–Sample Machinist

–Garment/Fabric Technologist

3. Production

–Production Manager




–Pattern Cutter


–Garment/Fabric Technologists

Quality Controller

4. Sales and Distribution

–Sales Director



–PR/Marketing manager

–Fashion photographers/Stylists

–Retail Managers

–Sales Assistants

Fashion is all about trends. You must understand the trends that affect your target consumer, learn to identify the direction the fashion industry is moving in, and develop your product accordingly. (WHAT IF IT WASN’T?)

Spending time in boutiques and stores, watching how customers shop and what product they pick up and buy can be a great way of getting to know your customer. OR working for a retail store.

Failing this, getting out on the street in a shopping district where your competitor’s are located and asking passers-by specific questions can give you pretty good understanding of their buying habits, needs and wants, and how best to grab their attention.

What will make your product special? Start by identifying your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses and see how you can beat their offer.

Diffusion of Innovation: in 1962 Everett Rogers—he argued that adopters of any innovation or idea could be categorized as innovators (2.5%), early adopters (13.5%), early majority (34%), late majority (34%), Laggards (16%).

–He argued that the willingness and ability of each group to adopt an innovation would depend on their awareness, interest, evaluation, and trial.

Trickle Down Theory: fashion spreads from the top down—i.e. fashion icons and style gurus

Trickle Across Theory: spreads horizontally across groups i.e. friends within a social circle or certain demographic.

Trickle Up Theory: street culture upwards.

Decide from the start where you believe your customer sits in the trend stakes and look at your competitors to see how trend-driven they really are. You may find that both place more importance on good, well thought-out design.

Don’t just design for your own fashion wants and needs—fast track to failure.

Most stores will want to have solve 70% of your stock before sale season comes around.

How ill your final collection look sitting on a rail in a store? Will it make sense to the customer? Does it have hanger appeal? You need to make sure that you create a balanced collection with enough width and depth or, alternatively, a single product with a strong identity. All the styles in a collection must work together to create a story and provide understandable options to the buyer.

Before you start the actual illustrative design process, sit down and work out a template. This should include the total number of pieces you are going to sample with a breakdown of styles, fabric, and color options as well as price points.


In House:

–Common for fashion start-ups where the designer is technically trained in pattern cutting and machining.

–Allows for very small quantities to be developed.

–You keep close control over quality

–Can be problematic when larger orders have to be produced.

–You are responsible for sourcing all the components.

Cottage Industry

–Outsource the sampling/production of your product to technically proficient skilled labor (pattern cutters/seamstresses), usually working from home

–Can be charged by the hour, by the day, or by the pattern/garment/accessory

–Allows very small numbers of each style to be developed.

–If sourced locally, you can maintain control over the quality

–Can be problematic when larger orders have to be produced,

–You are responsible for sourcing all of the components.

CMT (Cut, Make, Trim):

–Outsource sampling/Production to a production unit with a number of technical workers who will cut, make, and add trims.

–Allows for smaller production and more potential for larger runs where needed.

–You are responsible for sourcing all of the components

Full Package Manufacturers:

–Outsources sampling/production of the product to a factory that will give you a fully-costed product including patterns, fabrics, and CMT

–May provide sourcing services for fabrics and trims as well as developing garment labels/swing tickets.

–Product delivered to you ready to be shipped to customers.

–Depending on the size of the factory it usually allows for greater numbers to be produced.


Researching trends, colors, shapes, fabrics

Developing the product designs

Ordering sampling fabrics & trims

Patterns developed

Toile Developed

Product samples cut & sewn

Final sample collection selected

Selling season, orders taken & production run calculated

Final product modifications made

10. Patterns graded for sizes sold

11. Production of order

12. Quality control checks

13. Packaging & Shipping

Minimums can very hugely, and for fabric orders may range from 20 to 2,00 meters, depending on the supplier, but for the designer sector it will usually start at around 200 meters. For manufacturing you will find CMTs who can offer you anything from one piece per style, usually at a higher price, to full package manufactures who might start at around 500 pieces per style, but with a significant decrease in cost per unit.

Ways around minimums:

Offer to pay more / Ask for Stock Goods / Tack your order on / Creative design (cutting down styles within your range)

The further you are geographically from your manufacturer the harder communication becomes and the more difficult it is to drop in for a meeting.

Materials, Machinery, and Production Techniques: you should be working with a manufacturer specializing in the fabrics you are using and with a supplier who can give you access to all you need. Ask for a sample to be made up to demonstrate the standard of workmanship before committing yourself. You may have to pay for this but it will save you a great deal of money and heartbreak in the long run.

Most manufacturers will expect you to look after the shipping of your product from their factory, especially if this involves import or export duty and tax. Make sure you know what your unit price does and doesn’t include.


–The biggest advantage of wholesaling is that you can limit your initial stock investment to the order quantities placed by stores. So, before you purchase your goods from your manufacturer you already know exactly how many pieces you will require, in which styles, colors, and sizes.

–The biggest disadvantage is that you are not getting the full retail value of your goods.

–3 main reasons to choose wholesaling: limited funds, distribution, and credibility.

Don’t allow anyone to take pictures of your collection before they place an order unless they are from a reputable store or have a press pass.

Internet Retailing: accessories labels do well because sizing is less of an issue for the consumer and there are few problems with returns. The relatively low overheads can mean better profit margins. The major challenge is getting people on your site. What you save on store rental might have to be spent on marketing.

Lookbooks introduce your product line or new season’s collection to press and buyers. Catwalk designers usually take the images for their lookbooks from catwalk photographs. They are presented as an A5 wire-bound glossy booklet, with 30 to 60 looks from the show, one photograph to a page.

Developing a relationship with a photographer you trust is extremely important. Quite often you will be working to right deadlines for shoot sand you need to work with someone who can offer advice on what will work best and be most cost-effective. You may find the photographer can also help with things such as sourcing models, location, hair stylists, and make-up artists.

PR: Think like a journalist. What is it they want to cover for their readership? What topics or products are of interest? What angles will they find fresh and provocative?

If you aim to sell a dress at a retail price of $270, and divide by what is a fairly standard retail mark-up for designer boutiques of 2.7, you get a wholesale price of $100.

–If you then decide to work to a 2.5 mark-up from cost price to wholesale price you can work out that you need to produce the dress fro a cost price of $40.

Just remember that a selling price with a margin of 50% result sin more profit than a selling with a mark-up of 50%. For example, if a sweater is selling for $100 and is clearing a 50% margin, it costs $50. If the same sweater had a mark-up of 50%, the retail price would be $75, with $25 less profit.