Lessons from 15 Successful Clothing Companies
- Written by Matt Warren
The idea of starting your own clothing store could seem like a mammoth task. Although with incredibly to use ecommerce platforms such as Shopify enabling beginners to set up a store, the task has become a lot easier. This has led to the clothing industry becoming a very saturated market and shown that setting up a store is one thing, but making a success of it, is something completely different. In the 15 cases below though, they have turned a fun exercise in the evenings and weekends and made them in to full time jobs. We asked them 3 simple questions: 1. Was there anything in particular early on that was a success for you? 2. Is there anything you would do differently if you could go back in time? 3. What would be your advice for people looking to start a clothing store? Each store owner has their own lessons they’ve learned and some great advice for budding clothing store owners..
Kevin Lavelle, Mizzen + Main
Lesson: Look around you for inspiration
“Ten years ago, working in Washington, D.C. in the summer heat, I watched a staffer run into a very important meeting – soaked in sweat. His shirt was two different colors, sticking to him, and all-around terrible looking. It was unflattering to an up-and-coming statesman. An hour later when his shirt was finally dry, it was wrinkled and disheveled. The idea for a moisture wicking dress shirt was born. This year we held an exclusive event at the CrossFit Games for judges, athletes, and spectators, an event we are thrilled to align ourselves with. We just signed a partnership deal with Houston Texans Defensive End J.J.Watt who is perhaps the biggest name in the NFL right now. He embodies everything that we stand for as we build the next great American brand. This has been an exciting venture for us to share with our customers and followers and through our recent Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter efforts, Mizzen+Main has become a more widely-known American brand name”.
Lisa Chu, Black N Bianco
Lesson: It takes a few years to become profitable
“My company provides affordable children’s formal wear. I decided to follow my passion for the clothing industry after the economy took a nose dive and I lost my job. I started very small on ebay and slowly moved my way up to my own brand and website. It took a few years before my business actually became profitable. The most difficult part of my business was trying to implement a marketing strategy that brought in real conversions. With trial and error I found that the most successful marketing strategies mostly involved social media, with authentic reviews. Genuine blog reviews are very difficult to produce, in order to attract influential bloggers I had to build a great social media presence around my industry. It was a domino effect, once a blogger reviewed my clothing brand others followed suit. Building credibility as a clothing brand required my company to offer great products, reasonable prices and great marketing. It was a long journey to success, but in the end nothing can be more rewarding than owning a successful clothing brand”.
Steve Gray, Jax Everett
Lesson: Find your niche
“We are a high-end online retailer of clothing exclusively designed to fit men 5’9” and under. We launched a year ago and have been very pleased with the company’s performance so far. Our success has been due to identifying a very specific and underserved niche in the market (men of shorter stature who have a difficult time finding quality off-the-rack clothes that fit right) and branding ourselves exclusively to this audience. Too many companies in our industry are failing today because they are taking the “be all things to all people” approach and drowning in the marketplace. We did not jump into an overly crowded competitive space to fight a battle we would be doomed to fail. Instead we identified an under-served segment with limited competition and a huge audience and have been growing steadily the way we want. Our partnerships and outreach has all been targeted exclusively to our segment and we feel good about where we are today and where we are going.
Megan Williams, Fit For A Belle
Lesson: Carry a notebook for inspiration
“In the beginning, most of my designs were more graphic tee oriented. During this type of start up, the catchy graphics were ‘in’ therefore I guess you could say I was playing it safe. However, each design was/is carefully crafted through my creative heart. For the re-launch, the emphasis has been on providing more styles, athletic fabrics, colors, and by popular demand: more sassy sayings! I’ve also incorporated items besides clothing such as protein shakers, bags, hair ties, ice packs, socks, and all things new and improved! The first year I concentrated on if there was a demand for Fit For A Belle. As a 25 year old with limited funds, that was key in moving forward with any future plans. I’m always sure to have a FFAB notebook around for when inspiration strikes! Fortunately, followers turned into supporters, supporters turned into customers, customers turned into friends”.
Diane Kroe, Diane Kroe
Lesson: Create a 24 hour discount code
I specialise in a collection of Travel Refined Fashion for women who travel and pack light. When we launched our site we did an e-blast to all of our existing customers from our retail shows. We created an incentive to buy with a discount code for 24hrs and within that time I covered all my expenses of my Shopify site. We are now encouraging those customers to sign up to our ‘Exclusive Customer’ program to receive a monthly email with promos and perks”
Isaac Cohen, JNCO
Lesson: Get nostalgic
“We revived the brand early in 2015, thanks entirely to social media. The fans demanded a return, and we listened. Our history is definitely an advantage, since we had a built-in fanbase and didn’t have to start from scratch. Our fans have been amazing at communicating their love for our products and letting us know exactly what they want to see. That’s why we’re launching a heritage line of jeans, t-shirts, and hoodies this month, a fashion throwback to days we all sorely miss. We have over 50,000 fans and our posts get an average reach of 20,000. Things really get crazy when we share a throwback picture. Last month, we shared a picture of four teens in vintage JNCO. The post reached 625k people, got over 27,000 likes, and was shared almost 4,000 times. Even better this was all completely organic, no paid boosts or advertising at all”.
Melanie Herschorn, Udderly Hot Mama
Lesson: Local press can have a nationwide impact
“Early on, we were featured in a local NBC story about the Golden Globes. The story was then featured on NBC stations nationwide and really gave us a boost in sales. If I could go back in time, I would build my website on Shopify to begin with. I had hired someone to build a wordpress site and it never looked quite right. I was also using another e-commerce platform that wasn’t nearly as great as Shopify is. I feel like I lost time by having a sub-par e-commerce platform. It’s important to know your target market inside and out. I’m lucky in that I am a nursing mother and many of my friends are, so I have direct access to the people who buy Udderly Hot Mama nursing wear. Be sure what you have to sell is what they actually want”.
Tina, Wild Dill
Lesson: Form partnerships early on
“Early on I realized it was important to gain authority for the brand. I choose to go about this by working closely with mom bloggers who write about organic living, fair trade fashion and natural parenting. These partnerships have resulted in our brand becoming better known among our target consumer and have continued to strengthen the business through growth of our mailing list and backlinks to our site.
I would have started our Instagram account much earlier when the buzz about Instagram for small business was starting to pick up. We just launched it 3 months ago and are working hard to build a following.
Clothing stores have the challenge of needing to stock various sizes, colors, styles and the customer wants to be sure they will be taken care of if they need to return or exchange the product. So offer free returns to make the buying experience as friction-less and easy for the customer as possible”.
James McCarthy, Christmas Shirts
Lesson: Send your product to an influencer
“We had an early coup by sending a Christmas shirt to the presenter of the RTE Christmas Toy Show. He said he should wear it instead of being a sweaty mess in the boring Christmas Jumper he normally wears. He posted a photo of him wearing it on social media and it was the talking point of his morning radio show – The Ryan Tubridy Show. The photo went viral and sales spiked. I also called into the show to talk to him about why I started the business.
The lessons i’ve learned are that I’d pay €20 for a book on Adwords and save myself a fortune. Also, sell to women – they have all the purchasing power. If a couple walked into the shop I learnt quickly to pay attention to the women, they control the money”.
Tony, Katys Boutique
Lesson: Spend an hour on your site, every day
“Spend 3 months planning and a day doing. Careful thought about your brand, image and where your product is positioned in the market is everything. Who are you, what image do you want to portray and what impression do you want to give your customers? Picking a supplier that shares your values and views, as well as one that is able to do business in the way that you need.
Put an hour a day, every day, into your site and analyse what is going on. Your store will cost you money – expect to pay for that knowledge especially in advertising as you have to run ads to discover what works – but keep on it, a little each day and every single day.
Talk to other store owners and the community, most of the valuable information is not technical. Ask questions, draw on their experience. You can always pay someone to do the technical stuff but try to get a good business awareness of the processes and why things are done in a certain way”.
Lesson: Use Instagram to collect ideas
“Early on we were featured by Instagram as a suggested user then built some momentum and was also featured in Selfridges as an up and coming brand to watch out for. We initially used the platform as a place to collect ideas and inspiration for future products / designs etc then as we started to find our own tone developed it into producing our own content. Maybe the one thing I’d change is the expectation timeline I set on myself, things take a lot longer than you expect and there is always challenges somewhere along the line. Everyday I still am continually learning about marketing online and the product development process as well which throws even more challenges your way”.
Art & Angie, Angelina Voloshina
Lesson: Learn things you would pay someone to do
“A major breakthrough in marketing our site began when we started reaching out to fashion bloggers. Finding the right group of influencers is probably the most important aspect when developing a brand or online shop. Finding the most qualified candidates requires diligence, especially since buying followers and likes has become very popular among most “bloggers” these days. Developing lasting relationships is 75% of the business so choose who you work with wisely! Expand your Photoshop skill because you will use it every day, whether its creating new banners for promotions, email marketing or new product listing. Be as independent as possible, and expand slowly, you will gain the skills needed only with time. Try learning how to do things you would normally pay someone on your own, it will greatly save resources for things you actually need and expansion of inventory, which will multiply your returns”.
Cara Diane, Cara Diane
Lesson: Your customers don’t want to be ‘talked at’
“I targeted fashion bloggers and stylists to feature my products in exchange for getting to keep the apparel and accessories they featured. It also saved me money on hiring models and photographers because bloggers usually do their own photo shoots with the clothing they are featuring. The other main success for me was email marketing. I had to make my email program worth it for my customers, they cant just feel like they are being talked at or being sent “buy this” notes daily or weekly. I use a loyalty program and periodic coupons for my email campaigns so that my customers can see a real benefit from being on my email list, and one that they would not be getting if they were not a part of it. Bringing your brand online or opening your shop for the first day is exciting for everyone. This is the one time you can blow up social media and bombard people with info about your shop and not seem annoying because its all new. I wish I would have been a little less conservative and gone all out with “WE’RE OPEN.” Once you have established your price range, work backwards to figure out how you will source your products. You are selling the who, how, and why behind your product. Anyone can sell a t-shirt so remember you are giving your customers a backstory about how the product was made, who designed and created it, and why they should feel compelled to buy it”.
Jordan Silver, Mondo Monster Wear
Lesson: Make a design seem rare to spark sales
“Social media has been my greatest tool. 95% of my sales have become of direct marketing on Facebook and Twitter. According to the metrics on my Shopify site, 99% of the people who go to my site came directly from Facebook, Twitter and Reddit. Anything I would do differently? I stayed with a drop shipper a month and a half too long rather than firing him. I have since dismissed him and am very pleased with the results since changing vendors. On a sales front, make some designs permanent fixtures in the gallery but make some appear rare. Release a design for short period of time so that it sparks sales. Discontinuing a design is fine if it doesn’t sell”.
Laura Layton, Tin Lizzy
Lesson: Don’t neglect offline sales
“I would say that the mobile boutique, allowed me to build my customer base much faster than I could have otherwise. It also got me some really wonderful press that I otherwise wouldn’t have had. It’s difficult to get your online shop out into the world and being able to cross promote the online shop and truck was very important. My sales in the truck make up the largest portion of my income and when they taper off after Christmas and in the cold winter months, I have more time to promote my online shop and make sales there. I would choose an inventory system from the start and be diligent about keeping it updated and utilizing it to its fullest extent. It’s so important to have an inventory system that is working for you. I was far too slow in linking my online shop sales with my in person sales and it ended up wasting a lot of my time and causing a lot of unnecessary headaches.