It is exciting to start a new fashion business. Maybe you’ve found a gap in the market, have a unique aesthetic that you want to share, or are looking to solve a wardrobe problem that yourself and others experience. Whatever prompted you to start this business and however eager you are to get your design ideas out into the world, you need a realistic timeline for developing your collection so you can plan your launch. Especially if your background is not in the fashion industry, getting a first collection ready to launch may take longer than you think.
The first collection always takes the longest because you are building the groundwork for your brand as a whole. Some of the things you have to do for your first collection, you won’t have to do again for subsequent ones. The work will already be done and you can just build on that foundation. You will also learn a lot developing your first collection. You’ll end up with a better understanding of the development process and be able to apply that knowledge to making your next collection.
When you are developing your first collection, you will probably also be working on your business’ branding and legal set up at the same time. Things like labels, hang tags, and packaging are all steps that affect the speed of overall development, but don’t have to be redone again and again. Once you have your labels picked out and you’ve decided on a vendor to make them, all you’ll need to do for the next collection is to reorder more of them.
Customer research is an important part of launching your first collection. While I recommend never to stop the customer research, there will certainly be a bigger focus on customer research at the start of your brand versus once you already have an established client base and ways to communicate with them. Understanding your target customer will help you better design to meet their needs. Most of the time your initial idea of who your customer is differs from who they end up being. Or the reason why you thought your customers would buy your designs is not what they find most valuable. Customer research takes time but is well worth it.
You’ll also need to find suppliers and vendors for your first collection. You may get fabrics and trims from different suppliers from collection to collection, but when you are first starting, you are building that network of connections that you can use later on. Sourcing, like customer research, is an ongoing process, but the first time doing it takes the longest. Unless your background is in the apparel industry, there will be a learning curve here as well. Where to shop for wholesale fabrics, how to describe what you’re looking for, and what kind of prices to expect are all things you will learn while sourcing your first collection.
Finding a factory that is a good fit for your brand is also something that takes time initially. Factories specialize in different types of products and materials and you want to find one that has the capabilities you need for your designs. Onboarding a new factory is not an easy process, but once you have a good relationship with them and they have had time to get familiar with your products and your brand, new collections will go into production more quickly and smoothly.
You’ll also be developing the fit of your brand while developing your first collection. Every brand has a particular fit and size chart. This is decided based on your target customer, price point, size range, and aesthetic. Before you start developing your first collection, you’ll want to find a fit model that represents this target customer and her physical body shape and size. This is the person whose measurements will be used to create the patterns and samples for your designs and on whom you’ll evaluate the fit of the samples. There are often tweaks and improvements made to the fit after the first collection based on customer feedback, but you’ll be able to use the designs in your first collection as a starting point to create new design variations based on that same fit you already developed.
So how long does all this actually take? I recommend at least a year from idea to the start of production for a first collection. If this business is not your full-time job or if you have many styles or a highly technical product, it can take even longer – 18 months or even two years is not uncommon. When you are considering starting your first collection, keep this timeline in mind. You’ll want to plan your launch for a date that gives you enough time to develop this groundwork and be ready to launch at the appropriate season. (If your first collection is fall styles, you want to make sure you’ll have inventory ready in time to sell for the fall season.)
Once all this is established during your first collection, though, you’ll start to fall into a rhythm and be able to refine your process. Future collections might only take four to six months to be ready to launch. Having a realistic timeline for how long it takes to launch a first collection will help you start your business off on the right foot and plan for a successful launch.