June is Economic Empowerment Month at United Black America. As we come to the collective realization that the American economy has changed forever, African-Americans find ourselves particularly vulnerable. This month, we will offer strategies and tactics on all things financial and economic. Stay up to date and subscribe to our email list here.
It seems like every serious Black entrepreneur that I know has a clothing line in their portfolio of hustles, and it makes sense. Having limited productions of custom designed clothing and accessories gives the market something that they can’t find in any big department store. Clothing lines are relatively easy to get started, can produce profit quickly, and can
But before you try to throw some text on a Zazzle shirt or knit some scarves, follow these 4 steps to build a serious, profitable, and productive operation.
Step 1: Plan
Deciding to start a clothing line (or any Black business) can be exciting. You dream of quitting your job and running your business empire like a mini mogul. New ideas are always exciting in the beginning, but without proper planning, these ideas can easily become dreams deferred. When you are getting started, avoid making the following common mistakes:
Mistake 1: Not Writing Your Plan Down. When it comes to goals and business plans, if its not written down, its not going to happen. Period. There are some schools of thought that discourage business plans as being unnecessary or unrealistic. I cannot disagree more. ALL of the most successful operations on the planet – from small corporations to large countries – plan relentlessly, revisit their plans often, and operate according to plan. Your operation should be no exception.
Mistake 2: Making Uneducated Guesses. How much will it take to start your clothing line? The answer will tell you how much you will need to raise. How much does it cost to produce one shirt, one tie, or one bracelet? The answer will tell you how much you should charge per unit. When is your clothing line projected to break even? The answer will tell you how long you can expect to work without making a profit. If you cant answer these questions, you are setting yourself up for failure.
Mistake 3: Being Obsessed with Tools. You dont need a new MacBook Pro, business planning software, leather organization binders, iPads, or apps to get organized. You might be tempted to pile up “tools” that you think will help you get more done, but doing so is an expensive distraction from doing the real work. Many of my ideas started on a piece of scratch paper, and were launched using a business plan written on a yellow notepad. Rather than spending thousands of dollars on new electronic devices and productivity tools, focus on getting a product to market and moving units. Buy the new laptop later.
Step 2: Get Funding
Getting your business properly funded is vital to your success. After you have completed a business plan, you should have some realistic numbers to base your fundraising efforts on.
Crowdfunding has proven itself to be a valuable source of funding for Black Businesses. Crowd funding or crowdfunding (alternately crowd financing, equity crowdfunding, or hyper funding) describes the collective cooperation, attention and trust by people who network and pool their money and other resources together, usually via the internet, to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations.
Crowdfunding is not free money! Dont just throw up a profile and think people will support you only because you are a Black business. You will need to reward your investors with something of value for their contribution. When Tariq Nasheed used a popular crowdfunding website to produce and launch his film, Hidden Colors, backers that pledged $100 or more received a free DVD copy of the film and their name listed in the film’s “Special Thanks” credits. The result? Tariq was able to raise more than $25,000!
Also, you can increase your chances of success by producing a video (even if its just your face) explaining why you need funding, and by discussing your business plan. Obviously, you dont want to give away your trade secrets, but you will need to convince your investors that you know what you are doing, and have a solid plan in place to make it happen.
Cooperation – working together to achieve a mutually beneficial goal – has been the bedrock of Original values of the Earth since the beginning of time, and crowdfunding projects is a great way for us to demonstrate our commitment to other Black businesses.
Here are 3 crowdfunding sites that can help you get started:
If you have a crowdfunding campaign going already, leave a link in the comments section to give readers the opportunity to support you.
Step 3: Get Designs
Now that the hard work is done, its time to let your creativity fly! Your design is limited to your own creativity here. But even if you aren’t particularly creative, a good graphic designer can help turn a plain vision into a spectacular work of expression.
Here is a nice list of Black graphic designers that can help you create clothing patterns and artwork:
Step 4: Get Manufacturing and Distribution
Manufacturing and distribution can be another sticking point when creating your own clothing line. Fortunately, there are many companies online that make it easy to have your designs printed on material of your choice. For instance, Blank-Label is a build-a-shirt site that allows men to design their own dress shirt by selecting a fabric, style, collar and buttons.“Designed by you. Stitched by us,” is the company’s slogan.
In addition to Blank-Label, here are 3 places to have your clothing line manufactured:
Cong Ty Thanh Chuong Co., Ltd – Vietnamese Clothing Manufacturer
In Washington DC, Call (202)470-2665
Once you have your clothing line manufactured, you should get your pieces into local stores, barber shops, and boutiques as fast as possible. Most stores will not pay you upfront, but rather you will leave your pieces with the shop, return periodically to check inventory, and collect the difference from the shop owner. For example, say you leave 10 T-shirts priced at $20 with your barber shop. You come back in two weeks and only 4 shirts are left. You negotiated a 50-50 split with the shop owner, so the shop now owes you $60 for the 6 shirts sold. While you are waiting to check your inventories around town, its also a good idea to sell your goods online as well. Goods sold online will earn you smaller profits (since the cost of doing business online includes shipping), but you have access to a much larger pool of customers, which could mean more sales.
If you dont want to go through the trouble of setting up a website, here are 3 places to sell your clothing online:
4 Black Owned Clothing Lines
If you think you dont have what it takes to launch your own clothing line, think again. These 4 black entrepreneurs all run very successful clothing and accessory lines with great designs that cant be found anywhere else. As you check them out remember, “what one (wo)man can do, another can too!”
Ive been a long-time fan of Pharaonic Designs. Their clothing line is designed with an Afrocentric eye, and their website is as spectacular as it is easy to use. I highly recommend checkin them out!
No Black blogger or podcaster online has more personality than the Bossmack Topsoil, and its reflected in his clothing line. He is arguably the founder of Compton Street Couture and the Happy Bitches Movement. Love him or hate him, he is who he is!
Owner Kimalyn Barchelor is a self-professed slave to fashion, and creates custom accessories under the label “Royallayn Art Couture”. She is also the designer of Black Royalty Original – a custom t-shirt line. Her pieces are 100% unique and African inspired.
Krimson by Kwame
You might remember Kwame Jackson as the runner-up from Season 1 of Donald Trump’s The Apprentice. Unlike most reality TV starts, Kwame didn’t follow up his TV appearance with more TV appearances. He got on his grind. Krimson by Kwame is a line of affordable executive neckwear thats well-priced, unique, and high quality. I was blown away when I got my first tie, and I was like a 5-year-old at Christmas when I got my second order!
I hope this article has gotten your ideas flowing, but more importantly, I hope this article will inspire you to take action and BUILD ASSETS. There always has been and always will be a demand for bespoke clothing and jewelry. That hasnt changed in 120,000 years of human history, and wont change during this global recession. Dont wait to get started; take control of your financial destiny today!
Do you know of any African-American graphic designers or clothing line owners? Have you ever considered running your own clothing or accessory line? Have you ever had any experience in the field? If so, leave us a comment, and feel free to link to your site.