Posted on March 30, 2021
It’s almost the end of the tax year … and what a year we’ve had!
If you’re running your own small clothing business and you’re ready to reinvest your hard-earned profits, then this is the guide for you! There are 9 key investments that any fashion startup can make to grow in the next 12 months … we’ll walk you through each and every one of them.
Some of the equipment on this list will work best for fashion designers, while other tools are more appropriate for apparel businesses. We promise that — whatever business you’re in — all of the items on this list can help you to spend less time on admin and more time making, designing and selling great clothes!
The busier your business becomes, the more clothes you’ll make, which puts more pressure on your existing tools.
There’s nothing worse than a vital piece of equipment breaking down just as a large order comes in. If you’re still using a hobby-grade sewing machine or dressmaker’s mannequin to produce your designs, it makes sense to invest in professional quality tools. In fashion design & manufacturing, errors cost money and every second counts, so get the very best ‘making equipment’ that you can afford. You’ll save a fortune in the long run.
Sewing machines and adjustable mannequins are the obvious places to start when you’re thinking about your studio tools, but don’t overlook smaller items like kimble tagging guns, cutting table surfaces and snap popper clamps. Anything that saves you time, helps you make fewer mistakes and can stand up to the wear and tear of constant daily use is worth investing in.
If you sell your own products online, then your photo is probably the most important part of your whole sales pitch! Most of us already have smartphones capable of taking high-resolution images, but very few of us have the lighting rig to go with it.
To take an exceptional product photo, you need to illuminate your product with clean, bright, evenly-distributed light. This light should come from multiple directions so that the shadows on the edges of your product are softened and so that the textures in your fabric feel ‘real’ and three dimensional.
Nowadays, there are some fantastic lighting attachments you can get that plug directly into your phone: just shop around for ‘ring lights’, ‘LED light pads’ and ‘lume cubes’ and you’ll be confronted with hundreds of affordable, easy-to-use smartphone lighting attachments that help you up your lighting game and take better photos.
If you’re selling accessories, you should invest in the biggest, best lightbox that you can afford. If you’ve never seen a lightbox before, it resembles a glowing cereal box— it throws out a lot of evenly-dispersed light across a very broad area, and it gives you a bright, clean background on which to display and photograph your products.
At its heart, fashion is a tactile, person-to-person industry. Every time you wrap up an item and send it off in the post, you have an opportunity to impress your customer and form a closer personal connection with them. Premium packaging is a great way to do this.
A small investment in product wrapping materials can really help your goods stand out. Think about the colour, texture and density of the paper you wrap your goods in, and remember that there are some great sustainable options worth looking at nowadays (we’ve got an article on sustainable packaging here).
Whatever paper and wrapping method you decide to use, just make sure you finish everything off with a length of beautiful bespoke satin ribbon from GB Labels!
Once you’re up and running, stock is one of the best places to invest your money. Whether you need raw fabric or blank t-shirts, you can usually get a better price (per-metre or per-item) when you bulk-buy. This increases the margin on every item you sell and can reduce your carbon footprint, too. What’s more, by having more raw stock on hand, you’ll cut your chances of running out of product during peak sale periods.
A lot of fashion businesses are nervous about tying up too much money in stock, and we can understand this. If tastes change or if you experience a temporary cash flow issue, then you’ll wish you had kept the money to one side. We have the same challenges in our business, and our golden rule is that we have to be confident that we can sell what we have bought. If you’re still finding your feet with a new product line, keep your orders small until you’ve had a chance to gauge buyer response. On the other hand, if you’ve got proven, stable demand for your clothing products and enough space to store the raw materials, then feel free to go for it and place a big order. After all, clothes don’t have an expiry date!
We’re expecting to see a resurgence in both industry events (shows) and weekend craft fairs (shopping), as the world takes its first tentative steps out of lockdown this summer. If your clothing business has a good-quality popup gazebo and a mobile-connected card reader, then you’ve got everything you need to bring your brand to every town in the UK.
Pop-up 3m x 3m marquees with custom branding can cost anywhere from around £400 to £2,000 or more — it all depends on the canvas and the frame that you choose.
With vinyl-printed canvas, most gazebo companies will charge you on a per-surface basis (you might want to vinyl-print your logo on just one ‘triangle’ of your gazebo canopy, for instance). A dye-sublimated canvas, on the other hand, will give you the freedom to style every square inch of your gazebo canvas in a virtually limitless range of colours. Similar to the difference between a printed and woven label, a dye-sub canvas will stand up to much more wear and tear over the years, because the colours are embedded in the threads of the canvas itself.
If you can afford it, go for a lightweight frame. All aluminium and steel gazebo frames look pretty much identical, but the weight difference between models can be substantial. The lightest commercial-grade marquees weigh about 25 kilos (that’s a 3×3 gazebo frame with its covers on), while heavier models can go as high as 37kg. 12 kilos might not sound like a lot, but when you’ve reached the end of a long trading day and you’ve got to dismantle your stall and heave everything into your car on your own, you’ll be very glad you spent the extra money!
If you’re going to be selling clothes directly from your stall, you’ll need a card reader that can connect to the internet through your smartphone. Most high street banks can help get you set up with a card processing service, or you can sign up for an online payments service like PayPal or Stripe and get a card reader from them. You should expect to pay around 2-3% of the value of each transaction in card processing fees, or a flat monthly fee, depending on the service you sign up for.
You’ll need to allow at least 4 weeks to get your merchant account set up. There are a lot of anti-money-laundering procedures that every business needs to go through before they can start taking payments (and rightfully so), so don’t leave this step to the last minute!
As your business grows, you’ll find yourself spending more time on the road. Whether you’re driving parcels to the mail depot once or twice a day, visiting distributors or travelling for events, the miles will start to add up. At a certain point, it makes sense for your business to get its own set of wheels.
Our advice for fashion & clothing businesses is to get a small van rather than a car. You can hang long garments much more easily in a van than in a station wagon or hatchback, and vans are easier to move stock in and out of. You also have a lot more room to add your branding on a van, which is a great way to showcase your brand on the road.
If you’re buying any vehicle as a business expense, there are certain rules you need to follow. The guidance changes slightly depending on how your accounting procedures are set up and whether you lease the vehicle, buy it on finance or pay cash. Take a look at the Gov.uk advice on buying vehicles as a small business here, and if you’re still unsure, talk to your accountant. You don’t want to be hit with a surprise tax bill.
You can only work out of cardboard boxes for so long! If you’re losing track of stock and/or running out of space, it may be time to invest in some professional racking.
You can buy standard ‘bedroom furniture’ and use that if you want to, but commercial-grade storage furniture is generally cheaper (per cubic metre of storage capacity), and it’s also capable of holding much more stuff without buckling under its own weight.
Commercial storage racks also have enough room for labelling systems, ticket holders and dry-erase magnetic strips, that help you sort stock quickly and easily. As your startup grows, there will be times when you suddenly get a surprise spike in orders and you need to get product out the door as fast as possible. When those exciting moments happen, you need to be able to find each item in a heartbeat. Sorting and labelling your clothes by type, size and colour will ensure that you can fulfil orders quickly and make the most of every sudden surge in sales.
Even if you work with a fantastic third-party service, it might still be worth investing in your own screen printing equipment. Whether you’re in t-shirt design or apparel merchandising, having your own screen printing kit gives you the freedom to make your own prototypes and take on much smaller jobs from customers at short notice.
A commercial-grade single-panel manual screen printing ‘starter kit’ will cost you a little over £1,000, but you can spend £15,000 or more depending on the size of the machine.
Screen printing isn’t just for merchandising businesses. If you’re a fashion designer, you can customise your own fabrics, create your own branded fabric bags and run special-edition products — you’re only limited by your imagination!
As your business grows, you’ll have to make more trips to the post office to ship goods off to retailers and customers. If standing in line and battling through traffic is starting to grate on you, then invest in a small weighing scales and a postage label printer. Pick the right ‘packing and sending’ tools and you won’t look back!
Postage label printers come in all shapes and sizes, and they’re not all the same. Shop around for one that works well with your back-end ordering systems (you should be able to log on to your sales dashboard and print a label with just one or two clicks of a button). Make sure that the label printer can print labels in the size and format that your courier or postal service needs, too (some machines only work with certain couriers, so be careful and read the reviews).
As soon as your business grows to around 20 parcels or more a week, you should get some quotes from a few postal and courier services. You might be able to get a slightly discounted rate if you’re sending a consistently high number of parcels. If nothing else, you might be able to work out a more convenient postage system and save yourself some more time.
That’s it for this week! I hope you have found this list helpful. Just remember that brand new equipment is no substitute for commitment! We all want to go from kitchen table to global success story overnight, but even if you buy every tool on this list you’ll still need to work hard, watch the pennies and stay focused on producing the very best work you can for years. That’s what running your own business is all about.
Keep up the good work! Remember: every time you send a first-rate product out into the world, you make it easier for yourself to make the next sale.
Let us know how you get on, and — when the time comes to invest in more labels, you know who to call!
Thanks for reading!