Little Yellow Bird Founder, Samantha on a recent fabric sourcing trip.
One of the most common questions I get asked is, "How do you start a fashion label?" I don't claim to be an expert on this at all, but I've definitely learnt a lot about it over the last two years. Here's a list of my top tips based on things I've learnt either through trial and error, research or things I simply wish someone had told me when I was first starting Little Yellow Bird.
1) Don't act like a startup when talking to potential manufacturers. Some factories get 100+ emails a week from fashion startups so unless they think you're serious they probably won't even respond. Do some research, use the right language and ask intelligent and specific questions. Instead of saying, "I'm thinking of starting my own fashion label how much do your t-shirts costs" you could say, "I'm looking to develop a new line of X and I'm trying to find a suitable supplier, what's your MOQ and price points on X in X fabric."
2) Visit your suppliers. While the world is super connected these days and most things can be done remotely, if you're attempting to use offshore manufacturing you absolutely have to go and visit your suppliers. I spent a month working at one of our first factories before we even started using them as a supplier. Not only is it essential to know the conditions of your workers, you also get a lot more done in person and the factories are much more likely to give your orders priority if they know who you are.
3) Always get a pre-production sample. No matter how simple a product or how specific/accurate you think your instructions, always get a pre-production sample. For some unbeknownst reason an extra pocket will be added, buttons will be moved or different fabric will be used. A pre-production sample is also a great reference tool to check your production against.
4) Always do a counter sample. Startups will invariably face large shipping costs, particularly in the early days when getting samples made. Nothing is more frustrating than receiving a sample, wanting to make minor changes to it and finding out that the factory didn't make a counter sample and so have nothing to reference the changes against.
5) Figure out if there is an actual market for your products. Once you have a couple of sample pieces see if you can actually sell them before committing to a manufacturing run. Your family and close friends don't count, although if you can sell to them too that's always a bonus.
6) Don't get 500 units of an unproven product made that you don't know if anyone will buy. If a factory tells you that their minimum order is 500 units they are either lying or they're not the right factory to partner with as a young brand. There are plenty of manufacturers that can and will do runs as small as 50 or even 20 units (although expect to pay more for this).
7) Don't underprice your products. It's tempting to try and sell products at the most competitive price assuming this will get you more customers but that's not always the case. You also have to take into account far more costs than you could ever have imagined these include but are not limited to Shipping, Import duty, GST, Packaging, Labelling, Office Space, Tax, Website costs, Accountancy fees, Legal costs, Wages, Storage, Design costs and travel. The general rule of thumb to cover all of the above is to price your products at 2.5 times the production cost (obviously product dependent).
8) Don't take a quoted lead time as gospel. If you're told your products are going to arrive on a certain date do not book a photoshoot for the following day. Chances are your products will not be delivered on time. Quoted lead-times are always best case scenario and generally something will happen to delay it. Always build a couple of extra weeks into your timeline plans.
9) Try not to pay 100% of your production costs upfront. Most factories will want a 50% deposit (at least until they have worked with you for some time) and balance on shipment. If you've paid 100% of your production costs up-front and then receive faulty goods it can be very difficult to get this rectified. If the factory insists on receiving 100% payment in advance (which they probably will if you've just started working together) at least ensure there is a good warranty agreement in place.
10) Don't expect your fashion label to take off the moment you launch. The reality is that manufacturing (anything and anywhere) is super challenging, takes lots of hard work and will inevitably encounter problems. Chances are that when you launch only a handful of people will know you exist. Use this time as an opportunity to make mistakes, learn from them and continuously improve and update your products and brand.
I hope this is in some way helpful to someone else, if not it was a good chance to reflect on what we have learnt over the last couple of years. While we've mastered the above we face new and different challenges daily as we continue to grow Little Yellow Bird. Please feel free to reach out if you have any comments or suggestions. We love hearing from you.