The Complete Guide To Starting A Sportswear Brand

Step 1. Idea & Customer Need.

It all starts with an idea. Maybe you can’t find the clothes you are looking for, or you have a strong design opinion that you want to show the world. You are better off if you can connect your idea to a customer need. If you strongly believe in your idea, you should go ahead and make it happen. The most important, is to know who your customer is. Get clarity and guidance in how to find your target customer and brand niche.

Step 2. Market Scan.

You have a great idea for sure. The question is: is it unique? Perform a thorough market scan. Search the web, visit shops, read relevant magazines and talk to potential customers. You want your brand to stand out in the competition and find your target niche. If another brand already has your brand idea or product concept, you will always be number two.

Step 3. Business Plan.

It can be great to have a business plan if you want to bring other people on board, e.g. investors or partners. But primarily, the business plan is for you. It forces you to ask yourself those tough questions and look at your business venture from different angles. The business plan is a living document that will change and evolve over time. A strong brand and business adapts with time, and the forever changing apparel industry.

Step 4. Branding.

Put a lot of time and thought into your brand identity. There are many brands out there so you need to make yours stands out. Create brand awareness and loyalty that connects your customers to your label. It is important that your brand ties together with your actual products.

Step 5. Money.

Nothing is free. Nor to create a sportswear brand. In your business plan you’ve made an initial budget and you have an estimate of how much it will cost you to set it up. How will you finance it? Can family or friends help you? There are special start-up loans as well as investors to turn to. Going to an investor early on means giving away a certain % of your company, but the upside is that you can launch your brand and enter the market much faster and stronger.

Step 6. Entrepreneurship.

Running your own business isn’t a 9 to 5 job. It’s not the hours you spend in the office that matters. What matters is what you produce. You are your own boss and you need to make it all happen. You will live and breathe your brand, working 24/7. All people have great ideas. The differentiator is that the entrepreneur makes them happen. It will require you to put in the work and follow through on your dream. Are you cut out for this or not? Is it really what you want?

Step 7. Team.

As mentioned in step 6, setting up your brand will require a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Can you do it all by yourself? Even if you can, is that the most efficient way to do it? Make sure to liaise yourself with talented and driven people that can help you out where you fall short. If you are a designer find a good business partner, and if you are a business person find a good designer. No one can do it all and you shouldn’t either.

Product Development

Step 8. Define The Collection.

Leaving the foundation phase behind you, it’s now time to start the product development, the process of making your garments. The first step here is to define your collection. Focus on your brand identity, your vision, and the products you wish to create. Make sure your collection is clear and has cohesion.

Step 9. Design.

You have structured and defined your collection and the designer can start sketching. Get back to the inspiration and the brand image, and the customer you want to have. The styles should fit in with the vision and identity of your brand. To help visualize your ideas, sketches are created where you can see rough ideas of your products. Second step is to have tech packs created (the blueprint of each product) so the factory can clearly understand what you want to create. In this phase you are also thinking about details, materials, fit, and solutions.

Step 10. Sourcing.

Sourcing means finding factories, materials, and accessories. Materials is a science by itself. If you know your price points, performance requirement, and quality level, it will help you narrow down your search for the right materials. Accessories can be cords, zippers, pullers etc that you want to include in your garments. Then you need to find a factory that suits your needs, can produce your styles according to your price points and quality, plus believe in your concept.

Step 11. Pricing.

When you worked on your business plan, you had a first look at the costs and the prices for your styles and production. Now when the collection is defined, you‘ve sourced materials, found factories, gotten a rough idea of your costs, you need to check your product pricing again. Does it add up? Will it be profitable? Will you have the margin you need? Review all the posts in your budget and see how you can recalibrate it. In the end you want to live and work, doing what you love. You don’t want it to be an expensive hobby that you poor money into. Plan for profit from the start!

Step 12. Pattern & Prototype.

This is a very crucial part. Even though you have great designs on paper, you need to transform them into garments that look and feel the way you want. Based on the tech packs, a pattern maker or the pattern department in your factory will create patterns for your products. This is done mostly digitally or by hand on paper. The pattern is made in your wanted sample size and will later be graded to fit several sizes. With the pattern, the factory will start making your prototypes. In between every prototype you will measure, fit, and adjust the pattern to improve your garment. Typically you will need 2–3 prototypes per style before you have a sample ready to show/sell.

Step 13. Production.

Once you have arrived at your final prototype (sales man sample), you can start planning the bulk production. Discuss this with your factory as early as possible. They need to plan in your production in their schedule. They of course need to know how big your production will be, the number or styles and sizes per style. We suggest you write an agreement with the manufacturer stating delivery times and quality requirements.

Step 14. Shipping.

You have the bulk production ready and need to get your fantastic garments to your customers. Depending on your sales strategy you can have one or more customers. There can be online shops, end-users, wholesalers, agents, distributors and marketplaces. Take a look at your logistics, negotiate with transportation partners, and plan how you will repackage the goods to suit your designated customer.

Marketing & Sales

Step 15. Marketing.

Let the world know your brand’s story. Marketing is your products, your meetings, your communication, and everything you do in you business. Be honest in everything you do, let the customers understand why you do it, and what your brand is about. You want to get your message out, not just talk about your products. Tell the world what differentiates your collection pieces from the competitors.

Step 16. Sales.

It doesn’t matter if you have the best products in the world with the best story, if no-one buys them. In the end it all comes down to sales. You want your garments to sell, so you can reinvest and develop your collection and keep doing what you love.

Step 17. Order.

The manufacturer usually has minimum quantity requirements for producing your garment. This should at least be your selling target. Sell, sell, sell, and collect your orders to meet those minimums. At the same time, keep track of your minimum requirements for materials. How much fabrics are on each roll that you buy? You don’t want to buy too much fabric that in the end turns into left over. A good recommendation is to only produce the garments you have orders for. Don’t stock up, unless you have an online business, and therefor need your own stock.

Step 18. Customer Service.

Take care of your customers. You make your garments so that your customers can have them for their intended need. Don’t disappoint them, put yourself in their shoes and just see how you can help them. How will you handle complaints, returns, delays? Talk to your customers, put your ego aside, and use the information to make even better products in the future.

Technical Apparel Design Expert and Co-Founder of Apparel Entrepreneurship.